Category Archives: Landscapes

Old Fiction: Under The Downs

A friend wanted to read one of my works.

She lives in Sussex, so I recommended ‘Under The Downs’, a Sherlock fanfic set in and around Arundel, which I wrote partly as a result of many happy trips to see her.

But it is published on fanfiction.net, which means the interface is crap, and for reasons to do with her eyesight and peculiarly stubborn nature, she wanted to print it out.  And I just couldn’t help her there.

So I decided to migrate ‘Under the Downs’ to AO3, where it now resides,  and where you can enjoy it in thankfully legible format, and with a user interface that is not the bastard love child of the devil copulating with Unix.

I offer it to you now with renewed joy.  Especially The Otter Part.  Here’s a little taster:

“I paddle towards him with all the elegance of a hedgehog on a cork.  My teeth are chattering, so I clench them.  Just to make matters worse, he frolics about me, sleek and easy, undulating through the water like an otter.  His body is a blade, perfectly shaped for ease of movement.  He ducks and dives, twisting corkscrews around me in circles while I frantically struggle to stay afloat.

            Suddenly he bobs up right in front of me, his belly brushing against mine, his cheeks beaded, his eyelashes spiked.  Water streams from his pointed chin.

            ‘Why didn’t you just tell me you can’t swim?’

            ‘Of course I can bloody swim,’ I snap at him.  ‘What does it bloody look like I’m doing, carpentry?’”

Click here for ‘Under the Downs’ at AO3.

Happy reading,

EF

 

Processing

Snowy sky from my living room window today.

Snowy sky from my living room window today.

Well, I am finally coming down from my time away – six days caring for my mother, and then my annual weekend writing retreat.  There is so much to deal with, so many emotions to process.  Its been a very intense time, with not much time for myself or my creativity.  The only thing I have really been able to do is to keep taking photographs.  I’m so glad I did, though.  It gave me such pleasure to be able to capture a few moments, which I’d like to share with you:

john hallettDuring my time at my mother’s home, her hairdresser visited.  John Hallett has been cutting my mum’s hair for a mind-boggling 41 years.  He used to cut mine when I was little.  It was wonderful to see him again, and a privilege to watch him work.

We managed to get a couple of walks on the beach nearby when my mother was feeling better.  Even in the bitter wind, it did us both good.

Sunbeams over the Isle of Wight

Sunbeams over the Isle of Wight

You see trees like this on every coastline.  This one is on Stokes Bay, near Portsmouth.

You see trees like this on every coastline. This one is on Stokes Bay, near Portsmouth.

The view from the train station at Portsmouth on the way home was pretty impressive too:

HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy's first iron-clad warship, seen from Portsmouth Harbour train station.

HMS Warrior, the Royal Navy’s first iron-clad warship, seen from Portsmouth Harbour train station.

I managed to settle to a bit of writing on my retreat, in spite of all the emotional upheaval.  This is a shot of my desk during the weekend:

My desk at our 2015 writers retreat.

My desk at our 2015 writers retreat.

And this was the sky outside our house yesterday morning.  Freezing cold, but sunny and beautiful.  I’m so grateful to live where I do.

Freezing cold, but great weather!

Freezing cold, but great weather!

Hope you’ve enjoyed my little photo interlude.  On Friday, I’ll have a new Quickfic for you, crafted on my writing retreat!  Yay!  I got something done!

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

 

Inspiration: Sucking up History

20140927_135032As a special treat last weekend, Husband took me to visit a local National Trust property, Oxburgh Hall.

Built about 1482, Oxburgh was the home of a well-connected family who hung onto their Catholic faith throughout a period in English history when it was dangerous to dissent from the religious line the Crown laid down.  Oxburgh’s inhabitants  suffered as a result, passed over for lucrative posts at Court, closely watched for sedition and treason, and restricted from certain occupations as well as from celebrating their religion openly.

The result of this (relative) penury is that the building escaped the zealous passion for updating property that characterised the aristocracy, and many of its original features remain intact, including the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room, authentic Tudor bedchambers in the tower house that spent many years used only as storage spaces!

Oxburgh Hall:  The Moat

Oxburgh Hall: The Moat

Oxburgh appears to float on its moat, which cannot be drained as the 500-year-old elm wood posts which support the foundations would crumble were they to dry out.  It still has the barleysugar chimneys and characteristic towered gatehouse that recalls the Wars of the Roses.  Inside the sombre portraits of nuns, the needlework sewn by Mary, Queen of Scots in her years of captivity, and the Priest Hole, where illegal Catholic priests had to hide from government troops, speak of a dark history of dissent and risk, of members of the family living in fear for their lives, simply because of their religious beliefs.  Oxburgh was a particular target during both the Reformation and the Civil War.  And yet, despite this, the little rowing boat that floats beside the steps on the moat is  named ‘Le Boat sur le Moat’, so the family still kept their sense of humour!

I started wondering what it would be like to live through that?  Never to be able to trust your neighbours, your servants, even your family?  To live constantly in the shadow of the block?  To live in fear of the next knock on the door?  To question your beliefs every day because they challenge your personal safety and that of those you love?  To always be regarded as ‘Other’?

Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh Hall

The history around us gives us an opportunity to look at our own lives through a different lens.  What happened in England in the 15- and 1600s is not really much different to what is happening in parts of the world now.  Being inside a building where these things happened, seeing and touching the belongings of people who lives through such terrifying times, brings the realities home in a much more deeply felt way.  If we do not live under such stresses ourselves, we can never truly understand what they mean, but we can imagine.

I live in a house that was built in the 1880s.  Its just a little country cottage, the middle one of a row, the kind that are common in the UK.  It was originally built as two houses, one up-one down dwellings with an outside wash house, coal hole and privy each.  The men who lived here worked for the local Lord as farm workers or gamekeepers, and got the house as part of the deal.  Their women kept the house, cooked the meals, raised the children, and spread their washing out on the pasture behind the houses to dry on wash day every week.  The children would have walked across the fields to school each weekday, and worked alongside their parents when they got home.  They would have worshipped at the medieval parish church whose tower can be seen from our livingroom.  How different the lives of those souls would have been from mine.

Inspiration:

Think about historic buildings and places near where you live.  try to visit one or two if you can.  They don’t have to be as old as Oxburgh to count.  What about a coffee shop built in the 1930s, during the Depression, or a 1950s diner?

Take some time to soak up the place.  Think about the people who have lived and worked there.  How would the community have reacted or been affected when the building was put up?  They might have had to sacrifice their own land or homes, for instance, or they might have objected on moral or economic grounds.  How would it have felt to visit this place in those days?  What kind of day to day issues would have been on the minds of those who lived here?  What stories are concealed in their lives?

Take some time to write a few pages, answering these questions.  It doesn’t have to be historically accurate, but it helps.  Use the building or place as an entrance into someone else’s life and see where it takes you.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Inspiration (Wednesday): Patterns

Gathering Storm off the Suffolk coast.

Gathering Storm off the Suffolk coast.

Early this summer, I discovered Instagram.

Wow.

I love it.  I can make pictures now that look  how I want them to look.  Moody and intense.  Landscapes and architecture, life’s little details and self portraits. I’m an addict.

I get my interest in photography from my father, who was a passionate photographer.  In the fifties, he developed his own pictures in the bathroom of the flat he shared with my mother near Trent Bridge in Nottingham.  His little snaps of my siblings as babies, taken in black and white, developed into a fascination with seacapes that filled the weekends later in his life, when I tramped along the beach with him and his camera, looking for shots.

Southwold Harbour

Southwold Harbour

When I began my Art ‘A’ level after his death, my mother bought me a basic 35mm SLR camera, and I took lots of shots with black and white film, learning to develop them in the college dark room.  That was how I grew to share my father’s addiction for monochrome images.

He would have loved Instagram!

Sunset over Cambridge

Sunset over Cambridge

Looking back through the shots I have taken this summer, I’ve noticed a pattern developing:  a penchant for skies.

I love clouds.  The pictures I have been taking have brought this habit of staring at the sky to my own concrete notice.  I’m amazed to discover just how often I do it!

Sometimes, you have to look back at the backlog of work you have created in order to see the things you are interested in, the subjects that keep popping up in your work.

To a certain extent, lots of pictures of clouds are not really a surprise.  I live in Norfolk, known in the UK for it’s ‘Big Skies’.  The landscape here is fairly flat (although not as flat as Noel Coward would have had us believe), so there are plenty of chances to witness panoramic cloudscapes.  Living out in the countryside helps too.

Instagram has proved a great tool for me, not least because it has helped me see this interest in clouds as a new creative avenue.  I want to be taking lots more interesting skies in the future, and I’m saving up for a new camera, something a little more sophisticated than my trusty Samsung camera phone (love it though I do).

Gathering Storm at Sunset, Overstrand.

Gathering Storm at Sunset, Overstrand.

This week, why not take time to look back over your recent creative endeavours, and see if you can pick out any patterns or themes in your work.  Are you writing songs in a particular key?  Are you finding yourself drawn to crochet in fluffy alpaca wool instead of ordinary DK?  Are your paintings going through a ‘Blue’ period, like Picasso’s did?

And if you can pick out some new themes, how can you pursue and expand them?

(Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram for more of my photographic adventures!)

Happy Creating,

EF

 

Landing

Yes, there really is a place called 'Rest and Be Thankful', and here's the proof!

Yes, there really is a place called ‘Rest and Be Thankful’, and here’s the proof!

We arrived back from Scotland on Monday after two days of driving, and I am still in the process of mentally ‘coming in to land’.  It was such a wonderful, liberating holiday in so many ways, challenging in others, and there is so much to process, emotionally and creatively.  I’ve come back with a notebook full of ideas and a To Do list the length of my arm.  Amazing how one place can change so much about the way you see the world.  Islay is like that, though.  Clean air, empty beaches, sumptuous seafood, rolling mountains, and kind, friendly people.

Port Ellen, Islay.

Port Ellen, Islay.

I made a conscious choice before I went away to see this holiday as a kind of ‘cleansing’.  I only packed two books, which is unheard-of for me, and made sure both of them could not on any level be seen as ‘work’ – Ben Aaronovitch’s latest novel, ‘Broken Homes‘, which was funny and clever and shocking, and a real comfort book, Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf, which I find emormously inspiring.  Frankly, though, I had very little time to read because there was too much to do, and in between, so much wonderful time sitting staring into space and absorbing the fantastic scenery.   We watched no TV at all, barely caught the news (concentrating on weather forecasts instead), and only checked email occasionally by phone.  I took my laptop but hardly opened it (although I did gobble up this wonderful ‘Lewis’ fanfic.)

Husband and I also took the chance on the journey home to spend an evening sitting in a pub, kicking around ideas for new stories and non-fiction books we might tackle.  I love talking about ideas with him, hammering out plot twists and measuring the mileage in a story.  Sometimes there is nothng better than brainstorming with a fellow writer.

I’ve a million photos to sort through now I’m home too.  This holiday has really got me back in touch with my camera, and made me want to save my pennies for a decent DSLR instead of the temperamental compact digital camera I have now.  Its lovely to just ‘point and press’ sometimes, but other times, only a decent lens can capture and communicate the sheep epic landscape that surrounds you.  I promise to share more pictures with you as soon as I have organised them all.

Happy Creating,

EF

Easter 2014: The Pictures

The Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009), South Harting Church, Hampshire.

The Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009), South Harting Church, Hampshire.

WARNING: PICTURE-HEAVY POST!

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I have been absent for a week.  Caring for Elderly relatives again, I’m afraid.  It was a tough week, and I expected to come home utterly emptied out, but weirdly, because we managed to get out and about, and had a couple of days with friends in Sussex in the middle of it all, I somehow to managed to recharge my creative batteries.  I’ve come home feeling more ready to write and make and decorate than I have in months.  This is a HUGE relief.

I am here to tell you that despite everything, it is possible to feel and get creative.

So here are some pics and a little video of some of some highlights of a week spent between Hampshire, Sussex and Oxford.

Beautiful blossoms in the service station car park where we stoppped for lunch on our first journey.

Beautiful blossoms in the service station car park where we stoppped for lunch on our first journey.

Sunshine on the Hamble River.

Sunshine on the Hamble River.

Uppark House, National Trust, always a favourite visit for my mum, and such a beautiful building.  Its hard to believe it was gutted in a fire a few years ago and has been fully restored.

Uppark House, National Trust, always a favourite visit for my mum, and such a beautiful building. Its hard to believe it was gutted in a fire a few years ago and has been fully restored.

A sofa carved from a whole tree trunk, found in an Arundel shop.  looks comfy, doesn't it?

A sofa carved from a whole tree trunk, found in an Arundel shop. looks comfy, doesn’t it?

Gorgeous Italian nougat at the Piazza Italia event in Horsham

Gorgeous Italian nougat at the Piazza Italia event in Horsham

Stunning sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009) suspended before the North transept window of The Church of St Mary and St Gabriel, South Harting.

Stunning sculpture of the Archangel Gabriel by Philip Jackson (2009) suspended before the North transept window of The Church of St Mary and St Gabriel, South Harting.  Shades of Dr Who?

A quick peek at the kitchen garden of Hinton Ampner, also National Trust, where we stopped for a quick lunch on the way to Oxford.

A quick peek at the kitchen garden of Hinton Ampner, also National Trust, where we stopped for a quick lunch on the way to Oxford.

I was going to upload some footage of the Parade of 100 Ferraris at Horsham’s Piazza Italia event, but the format is apparently unacceptable, so I’ll just have to tell you that the best part was the revving of those meaty engines!

Anyway, the point is that you have to get out to feed your muse.  So this week, in the aftermath of a busy Easter, why not take half an hour to get out and walk around with your camera, and just look at what is around you.

Happy Creating,

EF

 

 

 

 

 

Inspiration Monday: Gardens and Gardening

Ickworth Garden Temple - take a moment to reflect

Ickworth Garden Temple

(WARNING: photo-heavy post!)

You think gardening is for oldies, don’t you?

Not so.

Go and visit a big garden in your area, a park, a stately home if you have one nearby.  As you wander round, take the time to look at the flowers, plants and trees.  Take the time to appreciate the long vistas the designers have laid out for you to enjoy.  Think about why each plant has been positioned exactly there in the scheme.

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

The garden house at Ickworth House, Suffolk

Who has walked this path before you?  What is their story?  Read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ if you can’t think of something better, or watch ‘Downton Abbey’ to clue you in to what might have happened in a garden like this, the secret assignations between the lady of the house and the gamekeeper, the Lord and the scullery maid, or the married gentry who came to visit for shooting weekends in winter, eager to continue their private affairs without their spouses knowing, stealing away into the shady nooks of the different garden ‘rooms’.

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk - who might have hidden here?

Inside the Yew Hedge at Blicking Hall, Norfolk – who might have hidden here?

As for public parks, well, imagine all the spies who have met their KGB handlers by the duck pond, the mothers who have pushed their prams through the rose beds and contemplated running away from loveless marriages, the children who have imagined faeries and elves in the trees.

If writing is not your thing, you only have to look at what Monet did with his garden at Giverny to see that gardens can be an endless source of inspiration for visual artists of all kinds.  Maybe your garden flowers could inspire a colourful quilt or embroidery.  There is so much beauty in your back garden and local park – all you need to do is use your eyes.

arbour and urn cropWhat about getting your fingers in the soil yourself?  Gardening is a true art form.  It allows you to create a complete world within the four hedges of your back yard.  You might prefer growing vegetables to flowers, in which case, google ‘potager kitchen gardens’ to see how amazing kitchen gardens can be.

Roses in my own garden.

Roses in my own garden.

There is nothing like actually getting down to business with the mulch and seeds.  Yes, it is often hard work, and it takes time and patience, but it is so incredibly rewarding, creative and satisfying.  Even if you just have a tiny balcony or window ledge, you can fill it with pots of colourful bedding plants and grow-your-own lettuce varieties.  Go to any Mediterranean village, and you’ll see what marvels of gardening can be achieved with a few old olive oil cans, some white and blue paint, and some bright geraniums!

And once the hard work is done, you can get out your deck chair, and muse.  And then maybe paint a picture or write a story about your green empire.

Happy creating,

EF